Thursday, June 26, 2014

Biogeochemical cycles - Nitrogen cycle

Nitrogen Cycle

Sources of Nitrogen

  • Lightning
  • Inorganic fertilizers
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Animal Residues
  • Crop residues
  • Organic fertilizers

Forms of Nitrogen
Urea = CO(NH2)2
Ammonia = NH3 (gaseous)
Ammonium = NH4
Nitrate = NO3
Nitrite = NO2
Atmospheric Dinitrogen = N2
Organic Nitrogen

Role/Importance of Nitrogen

  • Plants and bacteria use nitrogen in the form of NH4+ or NO3-
  • It serves as an electron acceptor in anaerobic environment
  • Nitrogen is often the most limiting nutrient in soil and water.
  • Nitrogen is a key element for:
    • amino acids
    •  nucleic acids (purine, pyrimidine) 
    • cell wall components of bacteria
Nitrogen Cycles
  • Ammonification/mineralization
  • Immobilization
  • Nitrogen Fixation 
  • Nitrification
  • Denitrification

Ammonification or Mineralization or Nitrogen fixation

  • Decomposers: earthworms, termites, slugs, snails, bacteria, and fungi
  • Uses extracellular enzymes  initiate degradation of plant polymers
  • Microorganisms uses:
  • Proteases, lysozymes, nucleases to degrade nitrogen containing molecules

When plants or bacterial cells die, they release of organic nitrogen 
Organic nitrogen is converted to inorganic nitrogen (NH3)
When pH is less than 7.5, NH3 is converted rapidly to NH4

  • It is the opposite of mineralization
  • Takes place when nitrogen is limiting in the environment
  • Nitrogen limitation is governed by C/N ratio
  • C/N typical for soil microbial biomass is 20
  • C/N < 20 Mineralization takes place
  • C/N > 20 Immobilization takes place
Nitrogen Fixation is
  • Energy intensive process
  • Performed only by selected bacteria and actinomycetes
  • Performed in nitrogen fixing crops (ex: soybeans)
Microorganisms responsible for fixing nitrogen are:
  • Azobacter
  • Azospirillum
  • Clostridium
  • Cyanobacteria
  • Require the enzyme nitrogenase
  • Inhibited by oxygen and ammonia (end product)
Two step reactions that occur together :

First step catalyzed by Nitrosomonas
Second step catalyzed by Nitrobacter
Optimal pH is between 6.6-8.0

Removes a limiting nutrient from the environment
Inhibited by O2
Not inhibited by ammonia
Microbial reaction
Nitrate is the terminal electron acceptor

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